Chop Blocks: Twilight Zone Draft

Why is everything making sense?

by Jeffrey C. Lyons | @JeffreyCLyons |

During the draft, I was in Cleveland.  An admitted Bears fan, I shared the same reaction as most Browns fans did… “Wait, my team took a position of need?” or “My team actually looked at football talent and not just combine/athletic measurable?”  With the picks of Kevin White to the Bears and Danny Shelton and Cameron Erving to the Browns, there was a signal that times had changed for those organizations.  Moreover, they were not alone…

Teams that had been laughing stocks of previous drafts were making smart decisions.  If you don’t believe me, some of the highest rated drafts came from the Browns, Raiders, Jaguars and Cowboys.

While other teams had a plan and stuck with it:

The Rams shocked everyone with Todd Gurley, finally settling their running back position, but they also filled their biggest need by adding 4 offensive lineman.

The Giants may have reached by taking Ereck Flowers at the 9th pick (I had him going to the Browns at 18), but it was the biggest need on their board and they felt they couldn’t pass on upgrading their offensive line.

Obviously, you will always have winners and losers in a draft (while early grades are nice, it takes 2 years to really know), but this draft was the most logical one I have ever witnessed.  Gone are the days of the Raiders taking a player because they can run a 4.3 40-yard dash or throw a football 60 yards from their knees.  Here are the days of drafting the most pro-ready wide receiver (Amari Cooper) to give their young quarterback an immediate and legitimate weapon.

If you think that character doesn’t matter anymore, then you didn’t pay attention to the drastic falls of Shane Ray and Randy Gregory.  Both were top 10 draft choices and both fell outside the top 20 (23rd pick for Ray and 60th pick for Gregory).  Further proof would be the amount of research done on Jameis Winston before he went as the 1st draft pick.  Tampa Bay admitted that they spoke with over 75 people on Winston’s character, that’s right, 75 PEOPLE!  That’s more people than have been attending Buccaneers games this past year.  The days of taking a Lawrence Phillips with the 6th overall pick have passed.  General Managers will not risk their job on a player who could cause controversy off the field.

If this trend continues, NFL fans are in for a real treat.  No more will we see one team dominate for years on end, while figuring out a way to restock their talent in the draft (Seahawks, 49ers and Ravens).  Teams will use free agency to add a missing piece, but the draft to find their building blocks.  While it may take some teams longer than others (due to the amount of holes on their roster), every team will have the chance to compete and true parity would exist.

This draft gave me hope.  Hope that general manager’s are focusing more on football tape than Combine or Pro Day measurables (I really would like to see a top player skip the Combine and Pro Day, telling teams they have enough film on him to make a decision).  Hope that these drops in draft stock due to character issues resonate at the college level and get those who want to play pro ball to take their college education and social decision making seriously.  Hope that the NFL realizes the product on the field can only get better and the fan base bigger, if every team takes the draft as a way to continually and permanently get better.  When we look at the 2015 NFL Draft a few years from now, either it will be an anomaly or, as I hope, the start of something big.

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